Summoner's Tales

East Rutherford, NJ, US
Meadowlands Arena
Meadowlands Arena gets a High-volt Sting...

Sting's distinctively piercing voice is perfect for arenas, but none of his songs are natural arena anthems. Nevertheless, at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford Saturday night, songs such as 'Every Breath You Take' and 'King Of Pain' - dark, depressing songs, if you listen to the lyrics - BECAME feel-good arena anthems, through their sheer familiarity and Sting's energetic presentation of them.

Similarly, 'Roxanne', Sting's heavy-hearted ode to a prostitute, was transformed into a light-hearted sing-along.

As the British singer-songwriter-bassist sang toward the end of the show, 'When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around'. These disconcerting transformations were the only objectionable things about the show, though. The sound system was magnificent. Sting was in good spirits, his voice was strong, and his set list contained just the right mixture of songs from his solo albums and songs from his years with the band, The Police.

Most important, he and his latest band - keyboardist David Sancious, guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - didn't limit themselves to note-for-note re-creations of the recorded versions of the songs, but came up with a fresh, generally well-conceived batch of arrangements. Solos by Sancious (a New Jerseyan who was a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in the early- and mid-'70s) and Miller were adventurous, taking this arena-rock show where arena-rock shows rarely venture to go: into the unknown.

Sting began the show with four songs from his latest album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You' (with Sancious playing the familiar harmonica sound on a synthesizer), 'Heavy Cloud No Rain', 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)' and 'Seven Days'. These songs set the tone for the entire show. The band members hardly moved at all, the lighting was simple, and there were no visual distractions except for a tastefully designed curtain hanging at the back of the stage.

Sting addressed the audience briefly after 'Seven Days', and provided one of the evening's few laughs when, in response to a written note from an audience member asking, ''Will you go to the prom with me?'' he looked puzzled and asked, in his British accent, ''What is 'the prom,' anyway?''

Sancious worked hard on a cover of The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life', providing a variety of unusual sounds that recalled the spirit, if not the exact sound, of the original, and Miller's pensive acoustic guitar playing made songs such as 'Fields Of Gold', 'It's Probably Me' and 'Shape Of My Heart' appealingly intimate. A similar mood was created on the last encore, 'Fragile', though it was Sting himself who played the guitar.

Sting performed 10 of the 11 songs from 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. One of the dullest songs from the album, 'Saint Augustine In Hell', was enlivened by Colaiuta's gleefully ghoulish recitation (in the role of Satan). I must confess, though, that I let out a sigh of relief when he omitted this line (appearing on the album): ''Hell is full of high court judges, failed saints. We've got cardinals, archbishops, barristers, certified accountants, music critics.''

Of the Police songs, the swirling version of 'Synchronicity II' and the extended version of 'When The World Is Running Down' (complete with a lengthy Sancious solo) were the standouts. 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' was solid, though not as exuberant as it was when The Police recorded it. The aforementioned sing-along made 'Roxanne' a bit of a joke, as did the cheesy red light that echoed the song's key line, ''You don't have to put on the red light.''

Opening act Melissa Etheridge did a duet with Sting on 'Every Breath You Take', and her bluesy shouting seemed to inspire him to transcend his customary coolness and become more animated.

Opening the show with her new three-piece band, Etheridge proved that her taut, high-voltage music can survive the vastness of arenas. She is a one- dimensional artist, singing every song with the same degree of obsessed passion, but this is also her biggest strength. Songs such as 'Bring Me Some Water' and 'Like The Way I Do' were riveting.

Etheridge, who is touring with Sting only briefly, promised to returned to the area ''very, very, very soon.'' Sting himself will be back tomorrow, attending the Grammy Awards ceremony - where he will be one of the most- nominated artists - at New York's Radio City Music Hall, then beginning a series of shows at the Paramount (under Madison Square Garden) Wednesday night.

(c) Star Ledger by Jay Lustig

Sting lightens up and has some fun...

No matter how hard he pushes himself to be an enthusiastic performer, Sting can't shake off the noblesse oblige of being a mature, serious renaissance man proffering sophisticated artistic wares wholesale to a hall full of Beavis and Butt-head fans.

Saturday at the Meadowlands Arena, continuing a tour that hit New York last June, Sting attempted to do justice to the cool delicacy of 'Ten Summoner's Tales' (A&M) - the set included all but one of the album's 11 songs - as well as less dainty (and more familiar) Police hits. But at neither pole did he project much passion - the will to rock remains a cerebral conceit.

Without specifically shortchanging his canny songs, this low-impact performer failed to enlarge on or invigorate them. Admittedly, the emotional pitch of the current album makes its electric presentation problematic in such a large setting; the tour's modest approach may also be a factor.

The singer-bassist is being supported by a small lineup that begs comparisons to the Police. Keyboardist David Sancious' jazz piano inventions were consistently fine, but guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who should lay off the double bass pedals) are not in the same league as Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, and the old songs suffered for it.

'Synchronicity II' was not dense or desperate enough, 'Roxanne' was just lifeless and 'King of Pain' had a flashy guitar solo but no rhythmic edge. A charmless version of the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' and numbers from 1987's '...Nothing Like the Sun' were incidental to the two-hour show's central point: 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Although it takes enormous hubris to play an entire new album, it somehow held the center. The handsome 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You' survived a hulky arrangement, while the lovely, pastoral 'Fields of Gold' and 'Shape of My Heart' managed elegant beauty without succumbing to haughtiness.

Melissa Etheridge, whose melodramatic overstatement once made her a bull in the china shop of small clubs, was born to play arenas. Opening the show with an assured set of tuneless folk-tinged rockers, the raw-voiced dynamo complemented the headliner by being simple and sincere. And when she joined in his encore of 'Every Breath You Take', she complemented him musically as well.

(c) Newsday by Ira Robbins

Misperceptions about the man have abounded for years...

Misperceptions about the man have abounded for years. But anyone who has seen Sting in concert knows that portraits painted of him as dour and pretentious are miles off the mark. But it wasn't until his latest album, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', that Sting took an eraser to those portraits, based mostly on his serious, cerebral music and his social and environmental involvement.

For 'Ten Summoner's Tales', Sting came up with clever, but still intelligent, music that matched his light-hearted, occasionally playful stage persona. Why, here was the man once dubbed the 'King of Pain' (the title of one of his songs) poking fun at his brainy image in 'Seven Days' (''Ask if I am mouse or man/The mirror squeaked, away I ran'').

The collection, which yielded Sting six well-deserved Grammy nominations this year, made up the bulk of his excellently paced and performed, almost two-hour concert Saturday night at Byrne Arena. Sprinkled among the tunes from 'Ten Summoner's Tales' were songs from Sting's days with the Police ('Roxanne', 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', and 'Every Breath You Take') and a magnificent, soul-stirring version of the Beatles 'A Day In the Life'.

Not surprising in their absence were songs from 'The Soul Cages', the predecessor to 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Written after the death of Sting's father, the moody, soul-searching songs that made up that album had no place in the mood-lifting show performed before a sold-out audience.

So much of the pleasure derived from a Sting performance comes from his willingness to expand his songs arrangements. Hardly ever will you hear a faithful re-creation of the studio version of a tune, and Saturday night was no exception, as he pushed and pulled the musical borders. Sting is so successful in these endeavours because of his consummate skills as a vocalist and bass player, as well as his willingness to share the spotlight with the three outstanding musicians - guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - who make up his band.

Their tight ensemble work, as well as the illuminating solos of Miller and Sancious, gave new resonance to the pure pop gem 'If I Ever Lose My Faith In You', the tender ballad 'Fields of Gold', and the musical melange that is 'Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)'. On that tune, Sting and his group showed their mettle as they moved with ease from the opening spaghetti-western, Ennio Morricone-inspired strains to jazz-flecked verses and countrified choruses.

Equally awesome in its musical might was the full-throttle rendition of 'Saint Augustine In Hell', which featured Colaiuta intoning an invite from Satan: ''Relax. Have a cigar''), as well as a list of some of hell's residents (''We've got cardinals, archbishops, barristers, certified accountants, music critics''). Now, who said said Sting was without humour?

More restrained, but no less potent, were the group's delicate treatments of 'Fields of Gold' and 'Shape of My Heart'. While Sting and Colaiuta laid down gentle rhythms and Sancious added soft keyboard touches, it was Miller's classical guitar and Sting's reedy voice that defined the songs grace and beauty.

Opening act Melissa Etheridge joined Sting for 'Every Breath You Take'. While her gutsy, pure rock-and-roll voice is in stark contrast to Sting's cooler, more restrained one, the two nicely complemented each other. And Etheridge's sizzling, rock-solid opening set did much the same thing. The blistering, emotions-laid-bare rock that Etheridge has made her trademark proved the perfect segue for the thoughtful pop-rock-jazz mix that is Sting's.

(c) The New Jersey Record by Barbara Jaeger